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F.C. Council Defines Budget Parameter Preferences With School Cuts, Tax Hikes

Falls Church City Council members, six of the seven there, sounded off on their budget preferences tonight, although still short of any final decisions before they have to do such a final thing in two weeks. The range of options they preferred added up to some hefty increases in tax burdens to Falls Church citizens and undoubtedly some cuts in the Falls Church school board’s funding request.

In a surprising declaration, read out as a written statement, Councilman Phil Duncan called for holding the tax rate at its current $1.27 level by calling for reducations on all main pillars of the budget, including the schools. Among the components of his plan, however, he called for eliminating the item to complete the fund balance restoration (at 17 percent) and collections deferral for the proposed Storm Water Management Fund fees until next year.

Other Council members decided to overuse the world “prudent,” however, to defend maintaining the 17 percent fund balance goal (far above the 5 and 6 percent numbers maintained by neighboring jurisdictions Arlington and Fairfax) in defense of, as Councilman Ira Kaylin put it, “knowing what investors are looking for” in the event of future bond issuance.

The best that Vice Mayor David Snyder could project was “some number below” the advertised tax rate of $1.41, saying that the Schools’ needs are “irrefutable” while the “adequate capitalization of the fund balance” also seemed necessary.

Council member Johannah Barry said it is still premature to project a desire tax rate, since new numbers from the third quarter of the current fiscal year will not be available until this Thursday’s Council work session.

Mayor Nader Baroukh said that holding the tax rate at $1.27 would require “draconian cuts,” including “imprudent” cuts in the fund balance, and Kaylin settled for generalities, such as “it is not a rosy outlook even with economic development” and citing the “mismatch between expected new revenues and expenses.”

School Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones was present to witness Council discussion, and was not encouraged. Two members of the school community, a teacher at Mt. Daniel and the head of the Schools’ Business in Education (BIE) alliance, Marybeth Connelly, both with children in the local school system that is experiencing unprecedented enrollment growth, spoke in favor of the schools’ budget request.

Connelly offered a plan that involved a slight reduction in the City’s fund balance goal that could permit the Council to meet the full School Board budget request with no tax rate increase.

But later, a majority on the Council used the term “imprudent” to dash the idea, with deference to the desires of the “investment community.”